Manchester United vs Leicester | Saturday 2nd April 2022, 17:30 | Sky Sports
The Premier League returns following its hiatus, a break Manchester United would on one-hand have welcomed, coming as it did in the immediate aftermath of their elimination from the Champions League courtesy of the fantastic Renan Lodi’s match winning header at Old Trafford.
But on the other-hand feared, given the key personnel who were on international missions with their countries and that they had gained some momentum in their quest for a top four finish with a pulsating victory over Tottenham in a five-goal thriller on their last domestic outing.
Uncertainty has been something of a buzz word around the Red Devils this season, with the identity of next season’s manager still unknown, talk of toxicity rife and performances unable to find any level of consistency not just from game to game but often over the course of 90 minutes.
The fixtures following an international break have often been a good time to get the underdogs onside but regardless of when this match was slotted in to the 38-game schedule this season I couldn’t be taking the home side at odds as short as 1/2 – so, for me, the timing accentuates the value in Leicester even more.
Rumours began circulating on the eve of the game that Cristiano Ronaldo could miss Saturday’s clash, after playing 180 minutes across two qualifiers as he helped Portugal secure their spot in Novembers World Cup, as he was not seen with the rest of the squad as they met at their base camp.
Ralf Rangnick gave no indication of an injury during his pre-match press conference although CR7, who scored all three of his side’s goals in the win over Spurs, is due to become a father once again which could also explain his absence.
With Edinson Cavani once again missing after picking up an injury while away with Uruguay, it is likely United’s interim manager will make a choice between Marcus Rashford as his main central striker or deploying Bruno Fernandes as a false nine.
Despite scoring more EPL goals against the Foxes than any other opponent (6) Rashford is suffering a chronic lack of form and confidence, highlighted by his omission from the latest England squad, while although Fernandes scored twice against North Macedonia on Tuesday to secure his side's place in this year's World Cup – it is hard to guess the mind set of players recently celebrating such achievements or in contrast that of Victor Lindelöf who suffered elimination with Sweden.
Harry Maguire will be looking to bounce back from being booed by England fans in midweek, but knowing a mistake in front of his club supporters could result in similar treatment while Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba both suffered slight injury scares over the fortnight with France.
All this added to a United side that as well as being completely outplayed at home by bitter rivals Liverpool (0-5) and Man City (0-2) – have also suffered 1-0 defeats to two other Midlands clubs in Wolves and Aston Villa as well as drawing with Southampton and relegation threatened duo Everton and Watford.
The Old Trafford faithful have seen their side keep just five clean sheets from their 22 competitive fixtures at home this season and if discounting their opening two games where they scored nine goals (Leeds & Newcastle) under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, they have managed just 15 strikes in the remaining 13 league outings at the Theatre of Dreams – conceding 16 in that same period.
For Brendan Rodgers, he must feel more like he is coming out of a successful transfer window rather than an international break with key defenders Jonny Evans and Wesley Fofana finally available once again following lengthy injury layoffs feeling like new signings to their boss.
His key players were mainly either not selected for international duty or not overly stretched with arguably only Youri Tielemans and Caglar Soyuncu the exceptions having both played 180 minutes for their respective countries, and although he would dearly love to call on the services of the two remaining injury absences, Wilfred Ndidi and talisman Jamie Vardy – there are now quality back options available.
There’s no getting away from the fact that Leicester’s away form this campaign is pretty shocking, and it would be remiss of me not to point out they have lost five of their last six EPL road trips, conceding at least twice in all of those defeats, with only relegation battlers Everton (6), Norwich (8) and Burnley (9) having collected fewer points on the road than their 12.
However, on the bright side Foxes fans can point to three wins from their last four league games and have also secured their place in the last eight of the Europa Conference having overcome a very tricky tie against Rennes – a side who sit third in Ligue 1 and have won their last five games in the French top flight.
Leicester’s returning stars, particularly in defence, could make all the difference in a bid to inflict more pain on a misfiring Man United side who they are unbeaten in their last four meetings against, winning each of the last three, scoring nine goals in the process.
Whilst the dangling carrot of 21/4 for the away win is very tempting, I am going to suggest the safety net of the +1 Asian Handicap at 53/50 with Bet365, giving us a full return simply for Leicester avoiding defeat and the refund should they lose by only one goal.
On a similar theme I am also adding both teams to score as a separate play and with odds of 7/10 under my minimum threshold coupling that via Bet Builder with Leicester to take two or more corners, something they have done in each of the last 14 head to heads, in all of their last 12 away games in the EPL and all bar Everton have managed when visiting Old Trafford this term, which boosts the odds to a far more palatable 5/6.
If I asked you what do Pontus Jansson, Ben White, Nathan Collins, Max Kilman, Craig Dawson, Virgil Van Dijk, Dan Burn and Japhet Tanganga all have in common and you answered they are eight centre backs that have played against Leicester in the last nine league games you would be correct.
But they also happen to be the eight centre backs that have all managed at least one attempt on target against Brendan Rodgers’ side over the last nine games – with only Luke Ayling – playing as a makeshift centre back at the time failing to complete the set by missing the target with both his attempts a month ago.
The Foxes inability to deal with aerial balls in to the box has been well documented, conceding the most goals from set pieces (11) away from home in the league – it is 14 in total and although this should be combatted to some degree by the aforementioned return of Fofana and Evans this seems like a great opportunity for old Slab Head himself to silence the boo boys.
Harry Maguire to have a shot on target is 2/1 with Sky Bet – this can be boosted to 3/1 to specify that to be with his head – but I would be kicking myself, no pun intended, if the ball dropped to United’s captain and it was one of his size 12’s that tested Kasper Schmeichel.
The £80m signing from Leicester has had six shots in his last six league outings with four on target, he also managed one shot against his former club in the reverse fixture at the King Power as he did last season and did not feature in the clash at Old Trafford in May.
My final selection is for a player who has come to the fore this season after being the latest young talent to take the chance of regular first team football by dropping in to the Championship for a loan spell, where he impressed at Luton Town.
After having to bide his time Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall has now started the last 13 EPL games for Leicester and seems very much a favourite of his manager – likely because of his hard working attitude being possibly less temperamental and more consistent over those games than some of his illustrious colleagues.
Although he has yet to score his first goal in England's top flight the 23-year-old did find the net away at Napoli in the Europa League in December and grabbed his first King Power strike against Randers in the Conference League tie in February.
The eye test is telling me his maiden EPL goal isn’t far away and he played in a more advanced role against Brentford prior to the international break, looking busy throughout with bursts in to the box from his position just behind Kelechi Iheanacho.
Dewsbury-Hall is also involved in any free-kicks around the area – although competition is high in that particular discipline at Leicester – but still if playing in that advanced role again I most certainly am happy to sprinkle some loose change on the Shepshed born midfielder scoring at anytime here – odds of 10/1 with Betfair seem pretty generous and for those of you wanting an even bolder play he is 30/1 to be either first or last goalscorer.
Manchester United vs Leicester – Leicester +1 Asian Handicap (53/50 Bet365)
Manchester United vs Leicester – Both Teams To Score and Over 1 Leicester Corner (5/6 Bet365)
Manchester United vs Leicester – Harry Maguire to have a shot on target (2/1 SkyBet)
Manchester United vs Leicester – Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall to score (10/1 Betfair)